Les Patterson’s Monday Morning Boost: Remembering vets who made it home...

  • I’ve shared before stories of two veterans who didn’t make it home from combat – Sergeant 1st Class Ron Wood and Lance Corporal Michael J. Allred. In honor of Veteran’s Day I’d like share the story of one who did make it home.

    My maternal grandfather Forrest “Corky” Christiansen and his brother-in-law Marvin Christensen were the first two WWII veterans I knew. Except at the time I didn’t know they were veterans. The “Greatest Generation” didn’t really talk about it much. Grandpa died when I was six so I didn’t learn many of his stories, though I did recently discover a letter he wrote to one of his sisters from Germany.

    I grew up with Uncle Marvin being part of my life. He and Aunt Connie lived just down the street. While technically my great-Uncle, his son Richard, Stich as we called him, was my age and we were cousins who grew up together.

    Uncle Marvin was the local milk man when I was a kid. He worked for the Ideal Dairy, bottling the milk and making ice cream. By the time I hit high school, Uncle Marvin was there as well, working as a custodian. Uncle Marvin and his cohort Bill were loved by the kids at school. They perpetually teased the girls and jostled with the boys.

    Uncle Marvin loved being with kids. Every girl was beautiful to him and every boy popular. He made a point of building our confidence without us realizing it. Few teachers or coaches impacted as many students as Uncle Marvin. He still loves working with kids. On Sundays he spends time in his church’s nursery, down on the floor playing with the youngest children. While he’s no spring chicken, you wouldn’t know it watching him. 

    A collage of Uncle Marvin during World War II. (Family Photo) 

    If you haven’t done the math yet, remember Uncle Marvin is a World War II vet. He turned 90 in May.

    It’s been more than day or two since he was drafted into the Army at the age of 19. That draft letter sent Uncle Marvin to “England, France, and Belgium then to Germany, Luxemburg, [and] Holland.”

    While in England, Uncle Marvin had his first experience with the impact of war. When he saw people “carrying buckets of water on these yokes that go across [their] neck,” he thought they were “a little behind the times.” It didn’t take him long to discover the austere “black-out” conditions the English were living under.

    Uncle Marvin’s boat trip across the English Channel on Christmas Day 1947 (or 1948) nearly did him. Severe sea sickness set in right after the first meal leaving him extremely sick and too weak to get out of his bunk low in the bottom of the ship. For eleven long miserable days he was left to suffer mostly alone.

    At least some strength returned by the time the ship reached the French coastline to allow him, and the rest of the ship’s passengers, to hike all night long through the snow. “I don’t know how many miles,” he records in his oral history. “It took us nearly all night to get there. There was really deep snow. We marched and marched and marched and it was bitter cold. When we got there – there to where we were going – we were going to stay in this big castle. But when we just about got settled, here came this other group that was right behind us, and their ship hit a mine on the English Channel and so they lost everything they had. They were all wet and miserable and they got the castle and we had to make tents or whatever and sleep on the snow.”

    Uncle Marvin playing the guitar somewhere in Europe. He seems to bear a striking resemblance to another guitar picker who’d come along a decade later. (Family Photo) 

    I still marvel at Uncle Marvin and many others of his generation. They simply did what had to be done. Someone had to do it and it might as well be them. That was their attitudes. Nothing fancy, yet extremely extraordinary.

    During that frigid winter Uncle Marvin credited the “umpteen thousand shots” for why they “didn’t catch colds and things when we got in zero weather and got wet and had to sleep out in the snow and stuff.” I’ve often reflected on what was left unsaid with the simple phrase “and stuff.”

    Uncle Marvin was a combat engineer; shovel in hand with a rifle constantly on his shoulder. He built roads, maintained roads, built bridges, and sometimes blew up bridges.

    Specifically, he was a demolition expert. Today we would call him EOD – Explosive Ordinance Disposal. EOD is the bomb squad you hear about when someone has found a suspicious package.

    As a demotion expert Uncle Marvin took care of landmines. When one was detected he low crawl on his belly up to it. Then gingerly probing around it with his bayonet he worked to determine what kind it was and render it safe or dispose of it. One time when his sergeant sent him up the road a safe distance the sergeant’s work didn’t end so well. All they found was his bayonet, and flung up in a tree his pistol belt.

    Another time Uncle Marvin was sitting in a window looking out at a group of men reading letters from home. A small spotter type plane flew over and dropped a bomb that lit right on the men. Uncle Marvin took shrapnel to the wrist. He still has the scar. Nothing was left of the men.

    A family photo I took of Uncle Marvin on his 90th birthday. With Aunt Connie and (l-r) Roger, Chad, Robert, Corlyn, Richard, and Ronald.

    Some vets come home from combat missing body parts, or with visible scars. Others have injuries far less visible, such as TBI – Traumatic Brain Injury, and PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some have found ways to share their memories; some never will. Few will ever share all.

    Veteran’s Day is Wednesday. Look around and you’ll see Veterans of all ages. A few will be wearing their uniform, as I choose to on this day. Many will be sporting a cap indicating their military branch and time period of service. One of the greatest gifts you can give any veteran is to simply say thank you and offer to shake their hand or give them a hug.

    If you know personally know a veteran, of any time period, one of the greatest gifts you can give is to listen. As you do, notice those who may be ready to share their story. Encourage them to write it down. Or help out and offer to interview them and record it for history. If they wish they can also permanently record their history with the Veterans History Project.

    You can find out more here:

    https://mymilitarystory.utah.gov/uvisreg/public/History

    As this year marks the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, I choose to remember Jerry Nebeker, another vet who made it home. Jerry was a door gunner in a Huey chopper. He taught me he learned to be chicken enough to wear “chicken plate” body armor after watching his buddy sitting next to him not come home after taking a round to the chest.

    Lastly, I extend special thanks to Uncle Marvin’s children for sharing memories, especially Corlyn for sharing her school project interview and Chad for providing a history written by their mother.

    Have a great Monday. Thanks for letting me share!

    p.s. Take 13 minutes today, Wednesday for sure, to thank a veteran for his or her service.

    Les Patterson loves to share stories and the “Monday Morning Boost” is his way of sharing a story or two with family, friends, and clients. Les believes every person, business and organization has a story worth sharing. Since 1997 he has enjoyed finding compelling ways to share those stories through writing and producing radio commercials at the Cache Valley Media Group. Discover how he can help tell your story at www.CacheValleyMediaGroup.com. Feedback and comments are welcome at les@cvradio.com. ©2015, Les Patterson. All Rights Reserved. To UNSUBSCRIBE, reply to this email with UNSUBSCRIBE in the subject line and your email will be removed.